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5 Ways to Leverage the Three Most Unused Words in Leadership

By Tammy Grabowski | November 30, 2021
5 Ways to Leverage the Three Most Unused Words in Leadership

5 Ways to Leverage the Three Most Unused Words in Leadership

I once worked for a senior executive that made a point of reminding our team that if the success of our business was entirely dependent on his brain alone, we were in trouble. He regularly used the three most unused words in leadership, “I don’t know.” This phrase was his way of reminding the team that he expected us to be thinking, learning, and solving just like he was, and he expected us to share our point of view with him and the rest of the team. While he was most likely the smartest person in the room, he never played that card. Instead, he played the role of the most teachable person in the room, increasing our level of engagement.

Mr. Don’t-Know-It-All

Legendary NCAA Basketball coach John Wooten once said, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” It feels good to be in a room where people think you are the smartest one there. Unfortunately, when this happens, the collective intelligence of the room goes down. When people expect you to step up and have all the answers, they naturally step back. What if you could lead in such a way as to have others step up? This will increase the collective intelligence of the room and raise the level of employee engagement.

The Teachable Leader

Teachable leaders raise the level of engagement on their teams by inviting everyone on the team to contribute. You raise the level of relevance of each person by showing that even though you have a point of view, you welcome theirs.

Here are five tips for becoming and remaining teachable.

  1. Celebrate that you are not the smartest person in the room, even if you actually may be the smartest person in the room. Enter every room knowing that you can learn something from every person there. This will raise your level of authenticity, which will attract others to you and your cause.
  2. Increase your curiosity. Stop accepting that everything is as it appears. Become curious about how and why things work. Challenge the norms. Inquire about the details. Be interested in what others have to say.
  3. Be receptive to new ideas. It is easy to be trapped in groupthink and not be receptive to new ideas or other people’s views. Embrace diversity of thought and diversity of culture. Be receptive to ideas and points of view that are different from your own.
  4. Ask great questions. Stop talking about yourself, your views, and your opinions. Instead, ask great questions of others. People love to answer questions about their views and opinions, so ask! Use your curiosity (point 2) and ask meaningful questions to aid you in learning as much as you can in the time available. 
  5. Listen with the intent to understand. The greatest gift you can give to another person is actively listening when they are speaking. A good listener will ask good questions that will lead to a complete understanding of the points being made. Poor listeners hear with the sole intention of responding and moving the discussion back to themselves. Listen and learn.

John Maxwell said, “Teachability is not so much about competence and mental capacity as it is about attitude. It is the desire to listen, learn, and apply. It is a hunger to discover and grow. It is the willingness to learn, unlearn, and relearn.” Take note of your attitude when it comes to listening, learning, discovering, and growing.

Are you a teachable person? Try saying, “I don’t know,” from time to time and see if you can increase the overall intelligence level on your team.

About Perry Holley 

Perry Holley is a coach and facilitator with Maxwell Leadership’s Corporate Solutions Group as well as a published author. He has a passion for developing others and seeing people grow into the leaders they were intended to become.

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